Monday, October 22, 2007

What is music cognition?

In the last three years our group has spend quite some energy in promoting music cognition as an interesting field of research in the cognitive sciences. The strategy was simple but effective: simply say ‘yes’ —and think along with— any journalist that contacts you. And, as is often the case in media land, once an idea is out and considered interesting, other media want more of the same. The challenge is, however, to make sure music cognition —its insights and results, its aims and prospects— is represented in an appropriate way, without falling into the trap of being reduced to simple facts that are useful for a popular TV quiz (see video below).

In that sense, I sympathize with initiatives like the ‘Battle of the Universities’ that promote the idea that scientists themselves should to take a lead in presenting their research (instead of ‘complaining’ about the media simplifying it too much :-). However, it is not easy to bring forward the essence of one’s field in an intriguing way.

Outreach —as it is often called— is not the same as ‘going on your knees’ to explain your research to a general audience or making populist interpretations of your field. You are in fact challenged to explain your research and insights in different terms. And that can be very rewarding and even influence to your own thinking. With regard to my own research, I could start talking about the computational modeling of music cognition, and the theoretical, empirical and computational methods that we use, but I’m sure a general audience will quickly loose me. A common trick is to think of a typical example that speaks to everyone’s imagination. I often explain my research in terms of the scientific challenge to make a listening machine. Imagine what that would be like? A machine that can listen and react in a human and musical way. And, of course, it should make the same mistakes! It allows you to explain all kinds of computational modeling notions, what should such a machine know, what should it listen for, and how can we compare and evaluate them? We just heard from our university that MCG has been selected to defend the University of Amsterdam in the Battle of the Universities. A challenge to look forward to ...

1 comment:

  1. So...what is music cognition? Is it the psychology of music. A part of it? Is it about how an individual perceives music and how he reacts to it?